Posted by: bridget | 11 February 2007

A Foolish Constancy is the Hobgoblin of Small Minds

~Ralph Waldo Emerson.

A foolish constancy – or an adherence to principles without any normative check – has frightening results. In the news, we have: 1) a Texas man received the death penalty for killing a woman and her 3-month-fetus; 2) sex-selection for babies as “reproductive choice,” and 3) an how a physician’s values influence patient care.

Feminists agree with the decision to charge Adrian Estrada with homicide for killing the fetus (and, of course, the mother, who was his girlfriend). Texas law allows a person to be charged with murder for killing any individual after fertilisation. Legal inconsistency #1: if it’s not a person, it’s not murder. That means that a person can beat a pregnant woman until she miscarries and cannot be charged with anything more than assault. If it is a person, then killing it is murder. Nowhere in our jurisprudence does the consent of one person allow another to be killed without penalty. Neither is there any requirement of love or value: we recognise as murder the killing of a homeless man. As A to the L pointed out, the basic premise (that life only has value if the woman wants it) is Hitler’s ideology that drove the Holocaust, although the abortion rate makes Hitler look like a piker. Any society ruled by law does not allow others to determine the value of one’s life. Any other society is a dictatorship.

Next, we come to the twenty-first century’s version of reproductive rights: sex selection of babies. In China and India, sex selection has resulted in birth rates of as disparate as 10 boys for every 9 girls in India and 8.5 girls per 10 boys in China. Australia, Canada, and Britain have outlawed sex selection and the United Nations opposes it for non-medical reasons. (Some genetic disorders are sex-linked.) American doctors, however, are more willing to use it. Most oppose abortion for sex-selection reasons; however, fertility specialists will try to determine the sex of a child before implantation (during IVF) or will use new technology to sort sperm.

Dr. Jamie Grifo takes a very laissez-faire approach to sex selection of children: “It’s the patient’s information, their desire,” he said. “Who are we to decide, to play God? I’ve got news for you, it’s not going to change the gender balance in the world. We get a handful of requests per year, and we’re doing it. It’s always been a controversy, but I don’t think it’s a big problem. We should preserve the autonomy of patients to make these very personal decisions.”

The same movement (reproductive “choice”) that brought us abortion on demand in the name of women’s rights is now bringing us the prevention of birth of female babies. (The fact that this has yet to create a discernible gender difference is hardly cause for celebration.) The very fact that parents, for reasons unrelated to sex-linked diseases, would prefer a child of one gender over the other demonstrates that society has yet to bring us equality.

Dr. Grifo does not want to play God himself and instead reserves that right to his patients. The abstract complaint about “playing God” is only part of the issue: people who want children should be ready to be parents, which includes being ready for having kids who think, look, act, and behave in ways that are entirely unexpected. Spending thousands of dollars to have a child of one gender suggests that, in the name of “reproductive choice,” there are people not willing to acknowledge that men and women do not act in stereotypical ways. A note to those considering procreation: if you cannot handle having a baby of a certain sex, you aren’t ready to be a parent.

“Left unanswered is the question of whether societies, and families, that favor boys should just be allowed to have them, since attitudes are hard to change, and girls born into such environments may be abused.”

So dismember them in the womb instead. Once you have a lot of extra boys, you have a shortage of girls in a repressive culture, leading to kidnapping of potential brides, murder for “ghost brides,” and a host of other ills.

Finally, we come to that issue that “feminists” hate: doctors who have moral problems with certain medical procedures. There are doctors who don’t believe in abortion if the birth control failed. There are doctors who don’t believe in terminal sedation of ill people. The pachyderm does think that doctors should disclose any reservations about certain medical procedures up front and refer to another physician if necessary, but there is hardly a requirement for every OB-GYN to provide abortions on demand. (If a physician does not believe in saving a woman’s life at the expense of her unborn child’s life, that is something she should be aware of long before it becomes an issue, which would allow her to seek alternate care.)

There is nothing inherently wrong with a physician who refuses to perform or recommend certain procedures; in fact, doctors with consciences are good. Some 20% of people who are euthanised in Holland do not give consent; the terminally ill would hardly want such a decision imposed upon them. Doctors refuse to perform tubal ligations, possibly because abortion is seen as a morally acceptable option.

The Washington Post article suggests that patient education is the best solution. The pachyderm would like to offer another one: doctors should conform to the guidelines of the American Medical Association; if the AMA is silent on controversial issues, then it remains the right (thankfully) of doctors to not perform or recommend certain procedures. Lawyers are held to ABA standards; they are required to suggest all within ethical bounds as options to their clients, but are expressly prohibited from offering illegal options (such as perjury). The practice of medicine should be no different.

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